Myanmar junta authorities said they torched almost half a billion dollars’ worth of illegal drugs on Monday, but warned they were failing to stop a surge in production and trafficking of narcotics.
Head-high piles of heroin, cannabis, meth and opium were burned in commercial hub Yangon, AFP reporters said, in an annual spectacle to mark International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Televised torchings also took place elsewhere in the country, with a total of $446 million of narcotics going up in smoke according to junta officials.
But in a rare admission, the head of Myanmar's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control said its efforts to crush the multibillion-dollar trade were having no impact.
"Even though countless drug abusers, producers, traffickers and cartels were arrested and prosecuted, the production and trafficking of drugs have not declined at all," Soe Htut told the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
The "Golden Triangle" border region between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand has long been a hotbed of illegal drug production and trafficking, particularly of meth and opium.
This includes Myanmar's Shan state -- Southeast Asia's primary source of meth, according to the UN -- home to a patchwork of ethnic rebel groups and militias aligned with the country's army.
Analysts say the military -- which ousted an elected government and seized power in 2021 -- is not serious about ending the lucrative trade.
The army is "actually the ultimate protection cartel of the trade, and have been for many years", independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP.
The burning comes as the United Nations reported record seizures of crystal meth last year in Myanmar and said opium poppy farming had seen a revival in the chaos unleashed by the coup.
More than 23 tons of crystal meth was seized in Myanmar in 2022, the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime said earlier this month.
Wholesale and street prices for meth across Southeast Asia were falling or at record lows, it added.
"The most powerful regional trafficking networks are able to operate with a high degree of certainty they can and will not be stopped," it said.
Opium poppy production in Myanmar also ramped up dramatically following the coup, the office said in January, as political and economic turmoil drove farmers to cultivate the crop.
The area of land used for opium poppy is now at just over 40,000 hectares, the UN said -- around half the size of New York City.